Memorial to veterans would be part of proposed redesign

Sheetrock and shoppers could replace hockey and hoops in Memorial Coliseum if the Portland Trail Blazers get their wish.

Oregon Arena Corp., the Paul Allen-owned group that manages the coliseum, unveiled plans Wednesday to convert it to a shopping center captained by two large 'warehouse' retailers.

Allen's group and Gerding Edlen Development Co., which devised the proposal, said they're talking with such potential tenants as Home Depot Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Target Corp.

Mark Edlen, a principal with Gerding Edlen Development, said the 'big-box' retail tenants have reacted enthusiastically to the idea of moving into the coliseum.

Nearly 4 million shoppers could visit the 136,000-square-foot facility yearly, according to J.E. Isaac, Oregon Arena Corp.'s senior vice president for business affairs.

The so-called 'Urban Home Center' would sandwich parking between upper- and lower-level retailers. The redevelopment would cost the Blazers' sister company $40 million.

The Allen group would continue to manage the facility for the city.

Oregon Arena Corp. presented the proposal to the city as part of the coliseum's redevelopment process. Other proposals include converting the building into either an amateur sports complex or a community center.

A public meeting on the matter is set for 6 p.m. June 18 in the coliseum's Georgia-Pacific Room.

In a nod to veterans groups that protested earlier proposals to raze the facility, the Blazers proposal would include space for a veterans' memorial park. The park, funded by proceeds from the retail development, would contain an enclosed 'learning center' featuring a meeting and exhibit area and an amphitheater for outdoor concerts.

The Blazers would change the name of the street adjacent to the park from Winning Way to Veteran's Memorial Way.

Isaac said the retail plan requires no financial investment by the city. It would create more than 530 full-time jobs in the Broadway Bridge area, he said.

Use of the coliseum where the Trail Blazers won the city's only professional sports championship in 1977 has declined since the Rose Garden opened next door in 1995.

Edlen said the project eventually could spur construction of a new east-side office district on the Willamette River. The offices, which would sit on the site of the old Red Lion hotel, could accommodate 2,000 workers, he said.

Edlen acknowledged that most visitors to the center would drive there despite the area's challenging traffic patterns.

'I think for large purchases, realistically, people will drive,' he said. 'But for smaller purchases, they could absolutely take (TriMet) trains.'

Peter Finley Fry, a planning consultant who specializes in east-side land use issues, said the option makes sense for the coliseum.

'Everyone hates big-box retailers, but they bring things in that are cheaper than everyone else,' he said. 'The problem is usually parking, but they have a creative solution here.'

The city is still analyzing the proposal, said Mary Volm, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Finance.

Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, said she supports the concept because of the promise of employment.

'My eyes tend to open wide when I think about 530 new permanent jobs,' she said.

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